Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young is at its best in the early going, as it explores the emerging relationship between a middle-aged, childless couple (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) and an affectionate, energetic younger couple (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried).
Stiller is a documentary filmmaker struggling not only to finish his latest work (and seemingly taking forever) but trying to emerge from under the shadow of Watts’ father, a revered, much-honored documentarian (a very welcome Charles Grodin). Levine’s aspiring filmmaker introduces himself to Stiller (who teaches when he isn’t laboring on his epic project) and immediately bonds with him over their mutual appreciation of Stiller’s work.
Even though Watts is somewhat suspicious of Driver’s motives (could it be Driver engineered the meeting to get close to Watts and perhaps Grodin?), the two couples get together and begin sharing some enjoyable, if unusual, and even extreme experiences. Driver and Seyfried’s youthful exuberance causes Stiller and Watts to re-evaluate not only their own marriage but their relationships with others, particularly their married friends who have embraced parenthood and make Stiller and Watts seem like outsiders since they have no children of their own. Stiller’s self-centered filmmaker begins to loosen up; he tries to repair bonds with his father-in-law Grodin by soliciting his input on his incomplete (though lengthy) film, and offers his assistance (and documentary’s subject) to Driver for his own film.
It’s a little unfortunate that the film takes a turn toward the conventional with some later developments, but While We’re Young still maintains the interest as it explores to some degree, not only truth in art but the means by which filmmakers try to get to the heart of the matter. The movie makes it clear things are not as cut and dry as they appear; after all, it’s been a long time (and many “reality” shows) since William Hurt’s news reporter added a shot of him wiping away a tear in Broadcast News. If it falls a little short, While We’re Young does remain entertaining throughout, with some fine work by all involved, especially from a re-invigorated Stiller and the ever-radiant Watts.
The indomitable Helen Mirren takes on the Austrian government in the fact-based Woman in Gold—is there any doubt as to who will emerge triumphant? The film recounts how Jewish refugee Maria Altmann (Mirren) enlisted the aid of a young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds—earnest but a little out of his league) to reclaim what she believes to be hers—Gustav Klimt’s famous portrait of her aunt, long since confiscated by the Nazis and now adorning Austria’s leading museum. Mirren does a masterful job of conveying Altmann’s grit and determination without resorting to undue sentiment (although the movie does that for her near the end), and Tatiana Maslany is exceptionally touching as the younger Maria in the World War Two flashbacks. While Woman in Gold plays out in a fairly predictable manner (even if you’re not familiar with the events), the film remains engrossing throughout, thanks mainly to fine work from Mirren and Maslany.